Thousands take part in Lebanon's 'vaccination marathon'

Young people queue to receive the AstraZeneca shot after authorities lowered the age of eligibility to 30

Thousands of people flocked to hospitals in Lebanon on Saturday in response to a government-sponsored "vaccination marathon" to encourage more people to take AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot, amid fears about possible side effects.

The one-day campaign offered vaccinations without the need for an appointment and lowered the age of eligibility from 40 to 30. Despite the hot weather, hundreds of young people queued in front of the Mount Lebanon Hospital in Beirut to receive the shot.

Roula Zahar, deputy general director at the hospital, said the high turnout would encourage others to register to be inoculated.

“Vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic,” she said.

“Plenty of people are coming in and hopefully others will be encouraged to come too.”

The vaccination rate in Lebanon has been slow amid concerns about the AstraZeneca shot – the most widely available Covid-19 vaccine in the country – after reports of people developing fatal blood clots after receiving a dose.

Less than 10 per cent of Lebanon's six million population have been inoculated since vaccinations began in February, while only one million people have registered for vaccination.

Ms Zahar said she expected her hospital to vaccinate 2,000 people on Saturday, nearly 10 times the number of shots it usually administered in a day.

By 8pm, more than 10,000 people across the country had received doses of the vaccine, according to official data. Caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan also took the shot on Saturday "to encourage and support this safe vaccine".

Ms Zahar said people had been hesitant to receive the AstraZeneca shot.

“This is unfortunate because it is an efficient vaccine and only inoculation can help us overcome the pandemic,” she said.

The EU drug regulator said last month that in rare cases the AstraZeneca vaccine may cause blood clots. These findings have led some people to refrain from registering for vaccination or to skip their appointments.

Firass Abiad, head of Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut, tweeted last month that "vaccine hesitancy is hurting us" after 30 per cent of people who signed up for the AstraZeneca shot did not show up for their appointments on one day.

I wish I could convince my husband and my son to take it, but at least by protecting myself I am also protecting my family<br/> Aisha Tawil, home maker

Aisha Tawil, a 40-year-old home maker, was among those who waited to receive the vaccine at Mount Lebanon Hospital on Saturday.

She said her family discouraged her from keeping an earlier vaccination appointment because they heard that a man died after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in Lebanon.

“When I called my doctor, he told me, ‘Don’t listen to these rumours, the jab is safe,' so here I am,” she said.

“I wish I could convince my husband and my son to take it, but at least by protecting myself I am also protecting my family.”

Lebanon reported 298 cases of Covid-19 and six deaths on Friday, a drop from thousands of new daily infections recorded earlier this year.

More than 500,000 people have contracted the disease in Lebanon since the pandemic began and 7,711 have died.